Drafting with DK #1: M11 Archetypes Primer


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by Dan Kramer

Dan Kramer has decided to take up a spot every Thursday on Mana Deprived and he makes his debut today.  You are in for a treat as he has jammed his first article with nothing but M11 Limited goodness, providing his thoughts on the most powerful archetypes in the format and even supplying some sample pick orders.  M11 just hit the MTGO store and if you want to maximize your chances of success in the 8-man queues, you would do well to read what Dan has to offer!

Hello out there all Mana Deprived faithful…  and lonely single women who were feeling man deprived but made a little typo in the URL.  Those in the latter category can move along, as you’ve come to the wrong place.  Wait a second…  lonely, single women?!  Who am I kidding…  you’ve come to the perfect place to meet a bunch of lonely, single men!

Anyway, I am very happy to be writing for this awesome start-up site, and want to thank the crew for welcoming me onboard.  For those that don’t know me, I’ve been playing Magic on and off for the last 10 years, though the last 3 or 4 have been filled with my best results as a competitive player.  (ladies: read this as mad skills…  you know, like nunchucks skills…  chicks only dig guys with skills, after all)  I have always been a limited player at heart, so that is what my column on this site will be about.  And with Limited GPs and PTQs about to get underway, what more pertinent subject could there be?!

The format for today will be one new to Magic Online, M11 draft.  Currently being used for Nationals season, this will also be played in the Limited portion of Pro Tour Amsterdam and Grand Prix in Gothenburg and Portland.

Mana Deprived’s Doug Potter has been doing a good job assessing the relative values of all the cards in the set with his detailed review videos, so I will turn my attention to actual archetypes that are prevalent in the format.  Though M11 – like many core sets before it – is somewhat of a bomb-dominated format (off topic, but has anyone else noticed that discussing limited can be dangerous in airports?), it is possible to overcome the Grave Titans and Baneslayer Angels (well, sometimes…) by drafting a synergistic and cohesive 40 card pile.  Here are looks at the main colour combinations, in my order of preference, and with a comparison to a cartoon or kids show for an analogy to how they should play out.


Pinky and the Brain – Little creatures that work well together on a master plan to take over the world… erm, game.

As you will soon find obvious, I consider Blue to be the best colour in M11 Limited.  In addition to bombs, Core Set limited games are often decided by card advantage, and back from the days of Ancestral Recall, blue has always been a champion in that department.  While the days of Ancestral are long gone, Foresee (What are we going to do tomorrow night Brain?) at common and Jace’s Ingenuity at uncommon are cards you are always happy to pick up.

The colour I most like pairing with Blue is Red.  One of blue’s main weaknesses is a lack of reliable removal, so supplementing your flyers and card draw can be a suite of red burn spells.

The way this archetype works is quite simple.  Be tricky to force through damaging creatures.  The early gameplan revolves around a much underloved red 2-drop in Goblin Tunneler (Pinky…  useless on his own).  Unblockability is a HUGE ability in a Core Set environment short on removal, and the Goblin works his Magic ideally with Scroll Thief and Fiery Hellhound (The 2 Brains…  right idea, but in need of a little help to get there).  You want all three of those cards in every Red/Blue deck you draft, and the good news is you likely don’t have to take them super early.  Tunneler will almost always table, and I would only consider taking one before a 7th or 8th pick if it’s pack 3 and I have none.

Aside from those guys, you want to take AEther Adept (Billie, your other plan, who also fancies Pinky) very high as your small creatures need time to get there, and scoop up an Unsummon or two.  UW Flyers (see below) is a tougher matchup for you, so in addition to the removal, you also want to prioritize Azure Drakes and Cloud Elementals.

Two cards many players are often afraid to pick are Ice Cage and Phantom Beast, but both fit very well in this style of deck.  If your opponent is wasting time / mana removing these cards, he isn’t dealing with your early game and you can get far ahead.  Plus, particularly in the case of Phantom Beast, there isn’t all that much that removes him that wouldn’t kill most 4 drops anyway, and large bodies are not abundant in these colours (a reason that and even Earth Servant is quite playable).  Like Brain’s plans, however, they can be thwarted in some matchups, so they do get sided out from time to time.

The last important notes about going this route are to watch your curve and your creature count.  It is easy to bloat on 3’s and lack earlier plays, so Mana Leaks, Augury Owls, and yes, even Goblin Pikers, can round out a pile very nicely.  Piker is very playable in Blue-Red, especially with Tunneler and some bounce spells.  On this note, Piker also makes the cut if you are low on creatures, as I wouldn’t want to play this deck with less than 15.

I’m not a fan of pick orders because I find it changes drastically based on what you already have (more on this in a future article), but here’s a basic idea for the commons and uncommon you want in your maindeck (I’ll leave out Artifacts, but Juggernaut and the rare Steel Overseer have extra value in these colours, while Crystal Ball is always quite nutty):

Mind Control
Air Servant
Lightning Bolt
Chandra’s Outrage
Azure Drake
AEther Adept
Cloud Elemental
Jace’s Ingenuity
Water Servant
Prodigal Pyromancer
Ember Hauler
Augury Owl
Shiv’s Embrace
Scroll Thief
Ice Cage
Phantom Beast
Chandra’s Spitfire
Fiery Hellhound
Mana Leak
Wall of Frost
Goblin Tunneler
Goblin Piker
Canyon Minotaur
Earth Servant
Harbor Serpent


Pokemon – Drop a variety of monsters while keeping opposing beasties at bay with pestering tricks.

When drafting Green/Blue, your strategy is different from the above in that you are not trying to be cute or tricky.  The strategy is very straightforward.  You want to play big creatures and get blockers out of the way.  After Mind Control (Master Ball), Sleep (go go Jigglypuf!) is the non-rare card you next most want in your pile.  Two free attacks for a deck with Awakener Druids (Bulbasaur), Cudgel Trolls, and Spined and Yavimaya Wurms ends the game on the spot.  AEther Adept is king once again as he does everything your deck is all about (clock + bounce), and both Llanowar Elves and Cultivate should be taken reasonably early.  Ramping into your power cards is the easiest way to win in these colours, especially when the downside of drawing manafixing when you’ve entered topdeck mode is mitigated by the blue card draw that is hopefully also somewhere in your library.

Cards that increase the most in value from Blue/Red to Blue/Green are Alluring Siren (Gotta Catch ‘Em All, amirite?) and Diminish.  The former is nigh unplayable in Blue/Red, but when you’ve got big guys back to block and lack removal as these colours do, he becomes a decent addition.  The latter lost a lot of value due to the M11 rule changes on P/T layering, but is better in this deck for the same reason as the Siren.  Dropping off in value are, notably, Phantom Beast and Scroll Thief, since you have many other options for large and in charge men, and fewer ways to force the Thief through (besides, when you do clear a path, you’d rather beat for 4 than draw a card).  On the Green side, Giant Spider – often a high pick – is not at his peak in these colours as you have other better options.  Here’s an idea of the pick order:

Mind Control
Cudgel Troll
Air Servant
Awakener Druid
AEther Adept
Garruk’s Packleader
Azure Drake
Cloud Elemental
Ice Cage
Jace’s Ingenuity
Water Servant
Llanowar Elves
Cultivate (value increases if you have a splash, like Fireball)
Sylvan Ranger (as above)
Augury Owl
Mana Leak
Giant Spider
Giant Growth
Duskdale Wurm
Yavimaya Wurm
Garruk’s Companion
Phantom Beast
Wall of Frost
Alluring Siren
Greater Basilisk
Sacred Wolf
Scroll Thief
Runeclaw Bear


Powerpuff Girls – Small creatures with flying that are annoying to deal with, backed by magical spells.

You want a low curve as a fast clock is important, and bounce spells along with white removal (Sugar) are key for eliminating Giant Spiders and opposing Azure Drakes, as well as fat critters that try to race you.

The pick order of blue card should be reasonably clear here, so I’ll leave it at saying that Sleep falls a few notches since most of your guys are tough to block anyway, and Wall of Frost climbs the ranks a bit to hold off any ground pounders.  This is also the archetype where Cancel and Mana Leak (Spice) have the best home, since you can drop an early threat and sit on three mana, plus you also have a low curve enabling quicker threat + mana up turns.

Looking at the White cards, while still rather good, Armored Ascension and Mighty Leap are not as key here as in other White decks because most of your guys already fly (and that’s Everything Nice, so, often you’d rather just take a good creature), while Infantry Veteran and Inspired Charge are quite playable to help your quick swarm plan.  The other cards are mostly picked as their power level would indicate.

Here is a sample order of the very deep white cards for this archetype:

Serra Angel
Blinding Mage
Stormfront Pegasus
Cloud Crusader
Wild Griffin
Assault Griffin
White Knight
Roc Egg
Armored Ascension
War Priest of Thune
Inspired Charge
Squadron Hawk
Elite Vanguard
Infantry Veteran
Silvercoat Lion
Safe Passage
Tireless Missionaries
Siege Mastodon
Palace Guard


South Park – Nothing polite about a deck full of violent spells that sees its own creatures killed repeatedly as part of the game plan.

No more Blue!  Indeed, the only colour I don’t like pairing with the power of water and air is Black, as I find the early game quite weak and the synergy minimal.  That is not to say a good Black/Blue deck is impossible, just that it relies more on the power of individual cards (*cough* bombs *cough*).

Act of Treason is at the heart of an ideal Black/Red list, which includes Black sacrifice outlets Bloodthorne Vampire and Viscera Seer.  To make sure those cards are at their most effective, Reassembling Skeleton (Kenny!) is another oft-undervalued critter to seek out (even if you have no tricks with him on board, he is usually better than previous skeletons because you don’t need to leave mana up for him to be effective).  In order to maximize these cards, you want your deck to be quite aggressive, so burn spells – even including Fling and Lava Axe – are at a premium.

Howling Banshee, Lilianna’s Specter, and Black Knight are your best attackers and highest picks after quality removal, while cards like Barony Vampire and Canyon Minotaur will usually make the cut.  Three power dudes can take sizeable chunks out of your opponent’s life total when you’ve killed all blockers.  Don’t overvalue Assassinate; while decent removal, it doesn’t really jive with your machinehead throw-everything-at-him strategy.

Also note that it is possible to draft this archetype as almost monoblack (this paragraph’s for you, Token), and should that be the case, Corrupt may be even better than a Fireball for you.  I won’t cover that option separately, but if open, monoblack with a splash for whatever you’re missing is definitely one of the strongest archetypes available.  If you see some late black cards in the first pack, it is definitely worthwhile giving it a shot, even if you’ll end up running cards like Rotting Legion (fat ass…  definitely Cartman), and Nether Horror to fill out your curve, making you less aggressive than the Black/Red alternative, but giving you more of a card advantage plan with Sign in Bloods and Mind Rots.  Your consistency and increased value from things like Quag Sickness and Nightwing Shade will more than overcome it, and you can splash one of the other colours to fill in what you’re missing.  Good examples of monoblack drafts can be found in Vincent Thibault’s Nationals tournament report here:



Power Rangers – Put together a team of guys that swarms for the win… and if the going gets tough…  get bigger!

The Red/White archetype tries to play even more aggressively than Black/Red.  First, these decks should have a rather high creature count (16+) as you want to be putting a lot of pressure on your opponent.  Second, you want as low of a curve as possible; Stormfront Pegasus is as important in this deck as it is in Blue/White.  You will often run subpar cards like Goblin Piker, Silvercoat Lion, or even onetime constructed playable Goblin Balloon Brigade just to have enough quality early game.

A few key cards make this archetype work well.  Keeping in mind you are playing a lot of guys and trying to hit your opponent hard and fast, Inspired Charge is the perfect fit, working as a mini-Overrun.  Keeping in mind that game plan, Lava Axe also fits nicely in this style deck, and is a card I always like to find in any aggressive-minded build.  Cards like these also help to prevent one of the major things I warn against when drafting such an archetype: lacking a way to win.  It is easy enough to fill your deck with efficient early beaters and a couple of removal spells, but what do you do when your opponent survives an initial onslaught, or your draw doesn’t curve out the way you want it to?  You need to ensure that you have some answers that are going to break you out of a stalemate, and/or force through the last few missing points.  There are a few key uncommon in this department, other than the obvious Fireball, such as Armored Ascension and Shiv’s Embrace (It’s Morphin’ Time!).  Both are excellent nail-in-the-coffin finishers, or cards that punish an opponent who stumbles early.

Cards you want to avoid in this style of deck include Condemn, Safe Passage, and Palace Guard.  It should be obvious then that with this strategy, you’d much rather be running Excommunicate (the bad guys are nothing without Rita / Lord Zedd, right?!) over the usually better Condemn.

For this week I haven’t had a chance to take you through a MODO draft, but here’s an example decklist from forcing this archetype on Le Bestiaire Draft Simulator (and if you haven’t seen the site, I do suggest you check it out: http://draft.bestiaire.org/)

2x Elite Vanguard
1x Infantry Veteran
1x White Knight
1x Silvercoat Lion
2x Goblin Piker
1x Blinding Mage
1x War Priest of Thune
1x Stormfront Pegasus
1x Fiery Hellhound
1x Manic Vandal
1x Goblin Chieftan
1x Canyon Minotaur
1x Vulshok Berserker
1x Assault Griffin

2x Inspired Charge
1x Fireball
1x Sword of Vengence
1x Excommunicate
1x Armored Ascension
1x Mighty Leap

17 Plains/Mountains

Now of course I got lucky with a couple of the cards opened here, but it gives you an idea of the kind of pile you want to draft.  For argument’s sake, the Fireball could be a Lava Axe and the Sword of Vengence could be a Shiv’s Embrace and I’d still be reasonably pleased with this result.

In my estimation, those represent the strongest combinations in the format.  There are a couple of other options that I have a little less experience with, but seem worth mentioning all the same:

Green / White or Red: Not unlike the Green-Blue deck, play big green creatures while dipping into Tappers and Pacifisms or Bolts and Outrages.  A very underrated card in these archetypes is Sacred Wolf, who is downright scary with the aforementioned red and white auras, but is even good with a simple Volcanic Strength.

Four-Five Colour Green: A risky archetype no doubt, but this strategy can be extremely powerful.  The basic premise is to pick up numerous Cultivates and Sylvan Rangers and play a green-based deck that splashes whatever the best cards you see are in any other colour (of course cards with single coloured mana requirements take priority).  You’re playing more of a control style deck at this point, so card selection should be made accordingly.  Crystal Ball – while again ALWAYS nuts – is at its best in a deck like this.

Mill: Pretty sure everyone has heard stories of some guy who drafted 4 Jace’s Erasure and 3 Tome Scour and managed to demolish his opponents, but I don’t think this strategy is really viable.  If you “accidentally” scoop up multiples of the mill cards in the waning picks of pack 1, while already having some good blue cards in your pile, you could give it a try, but I would NOT recommend it.

So that about does it for the M11 draft decks you should be aiming for.  I hope you’ve found this article insightful, and that you give some of these strategies a try, whether it be Powerpuff Girls or South Park.  Or maybe you have a bunch of manafixers and it comes out looking more like Powerpuff Pokemon…  or is that PokeGirls?

I will be trying out a few different article and writing styles to start things out, so let me know what you guys might like to hear about in a weekly Limited column.  I can tell you the coming weeks will include a non-format specific approach to how I go into a draft, a MODO draft walkthrough (hopefully video), and a report from a Trial for Grand Prix Toronto since my rating has dipped to 2-bye level at the moment.